From the stature attributed to Akrūra by Mahābhārata, Harivaṃśapurāṇa (Harivangshapurana) and Viṣṇupurāṇa, it appears that he was one of the clan chiefs of the Yadu-Andhaka-Kukura-Vṛṣṇi saṃgha. When Kaṃsa, ruler of Mathurā and son-in-law of Jarāsandha, the king of Magadha, grew in power by virtue of his father-in-law’s influence, there was a convergence of the saṃgha or public assembly governance that presided over the Mathurā-Śurasena region. Though many members of the Yadu-Vṛṣṇi saṅgha resigned from Kaṃsa’s alliance, it appears that Akrūra remained loyal to him. In order to keep up appearances, Akrūra maintained his political stand by swearing allegiance to Kaṃsa; however, it seems that he sagaciously maintained correspondence with the heads of the other clans. Because when Kaṃsa organised the dhanuryajña (dhanuryajna; ‘bow festival’)to craftily do away with Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, the two exiled sons of Vasudeva, he called Akrūra and said, “If Vasudeva has not poisoned your ears, you will have to do me a favour”— yadi vā nopajapto’si vasudevena suvrata/ akrūra kuru me prītimetāṃ parama durlabhām.

Kaṃsa sent Akrūra to Vrajabhūmi (Vrajabhumi; Vrindavan; the land where the cowherd community inhabited was known as Vrajabhūmi)  to bring Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. His motive was to murder Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma in course of the dhanuryajña. Bhāgavatapurāṇa, however, depicts a charming description of Akrūra’s journey to Vraja; in this account he appears to be very fond of and quite devoted towards Kṛṣṇa. But Kaṃsa’s words in Viṣṇupurāṇa makes it clear that he trusted Akrūra more than others. At the same time, we find Akrūra in good spirits while he thought of meeting Kṛṣṇa the next day.

Under Kaṃsa’s orders, Akrūra left for Nanda’s house at Vraja on his chariot right after the night had passed. Throughout his journey he remained engrossed in thoughts about Kṛṣna’s divinity and how he would be blessed to exchange greetings with Kṛṣna in his mortal incarnation. Thus Akrūra reached Gokula in the evening. His hosts Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma met him that night itself to welcome him. Akrūra, while speaking of accompanying Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma to Mathurā the next day, disclosed all of Kaṃsa’s evil intentions to Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣna immediately assured Akrūra and told him of their ‘certain’ resolve (niścaya; nishchaya) to kill Kaṃsa. “Kaṃsa would certainly be exterminated within the next three nights”— with this promise Kṛṣna instructed Akrūra to leave Brajabhūmi the very next day and spread this news as Kaṃsa’s decree.

  • The women of Vraja were the most distressed by the news of Kṛṣṇa’s departure for Mathurā. The memory of their bygone days with Kṛṣṇa, of their long relationship with him, fond recollections of their affairs and romances with him turned into lamentations. It was their heartrending grief that drove them to curse the gentleman named ‘Akrūra’ as ‘Krūra’ (Krura) or cruel. That is to say, the man who was responsible for the estrangement between them and theirbeloved idol did not deserve to be called ‘Akrūra’ in relation to his callousness— maitadvidhasyākaruṇasya nāma bhūd/akrūra ityetadatība dāruṇah.

Akrūra’s chariot left the land of Vraja with Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. They decided to stop by the bank of the Yamunā (Yamuna) at noon and take a bath. No sooner had Akrūra taken a dip in the Yamunā and started brahma meditation, than he had a vision of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma as incarnations of Nārāyaṇa. This vision showing the indivisibility of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma within the form of Nārāyaṇa, who was worshiped by all sages and hermits, made him come to the banks to take a look at Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma one moment, and take a dip the next, following which he could once again see the image of Nārāyaṇa. This astounding vision established in Akrūra’s heart full extent of Kṛṣṇa’s divinity. However, when he spoke of his remarkable vision to Kṛṣṇa, he avoided Akrūra completely.

Akrūra drove his chariot at breakneck speed and reached Mathurā in the evening. Leaving Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma on the royal avenue, he excused himself and went back home. Especially because he needed to inform the lord of Mathurā, Kaṃsa, of Kṛṣṇa’s arrival.

  • During the wrestling match which Kaṃsa had deviously organised to kill Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, Akrūra sat with Kṛṣṇa’s father Vasudeva in the gallery as a spectator.
  • After slaying Kaṃsa, Kṛṣṇa sent Uddhava from Mathurā to Vraja. The gopikās (gopika) of Vraja, however, suspected that Uddhava was actually Akrūra.
  • In Bhāgavatapuraṇa, Akrūra has been depicted as a disciple of Kṛṣṇa who is deeply devoted to him. Kṛṣṇa, too, has addressed him as guru and sent him to Hastināpura (Hastinapur), treating him with reverence, to inquire after the distressed Pāṇḍavas (Pandavas). Akrūra went to Hastināpura on Kṛṣṇa’s bidding; there he spoke to Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Dhritarashtra), Vidura, Bhīṣma (Bhishma) and Pṛthā (Pritha and conveyed all news of the Pāṇḍavas to Kṛṣṇa.
  • Bhāgavatapurāṇa and Viṣṇupurāṇa chronicle that the trust placed in Akrūra and the veneration with which he is treated was perhaps temporary. In particular, this courteous appearance of Akrūra is contradictory to his impression in Mahābhārata and Harivaṃśa. These two texts depict Akrūra as the chief of one of the many clans, and the rivalry and ill-feeling present between him and Kṛṣṇa persisted till the end of Kṛṣṇa’s life. The conflict between Kṛṣṇa and Akrūra, however, was centered round the Syamantaka gem.

In Śāntiparva (ShantiParva) of Mahābhārata, we find Kṛṣṇa discussing his sorrows and woes as a head of the confederate state with the divine sage Nārada. Here Kṛṣṇa cited Akrūra to be one of the reasons behind his misery. To assert this, he said, among other things, “Akrūra says that Kṛṣṇa cannot me because he supports Āhuka. And Āhuka says that Kṛṣṇa detests me since he is an ally of Akrūra. My heart is ablaze by the assailment of their acerbic words. It is impossible for me to side with any one of them in this perennial squabble between Āhuka and Akrūra. If a mother has two gambler sons who are pitted against each other, she wishes for both to emerge winners. Similarly, I too wish for one to emerge victorious, and the other unconquered”—ekasya jayamāśaṃse aparasyāparājayam.

Here, the one referred to as Āhuka was Mathurā’s king, Ugrasena. After listening to Kṛṣṇa, Nārada told him, “The contention that has emerged between you and Akrūra et al is the outcome of your previous actions”— āpat kṛcchrā svakarmajā.

  • The origin of Kṛṣṇa’s own karma, as alluded to by Nārada, can be traced back to the story of the Syamantaka gem. Once again, the characters involved in this tale of the Syamantaka gem are Kṛṣṇa’s wife Satyabhāmā (Satyabhaamaa) and Akrūra.

Satyabhāma’s father Satrājit (Satrajit) worshipped Sūrya (Surya), the Sun God, and hence, Sūrya was more like a friend to him. He had received the Syamantaka gem as a gift from Sūrya. This precious gem had supernatural powers. Every day, it produced eight ounces of gold, and under its influence the kingdom remained free from floods, droughts, epidemics, etc. Viṣṇupurāṇa relates that Satrājit was apprehensive that Kṛṣṇa after seeing the gem might ask for it for some reason, particularly for the prosperity of his kingdom; so Satrājit gave it to his younger brother Prasena for safekeeping. According to Harivaṃśa, once Kṛṣṇa could not help but ask for the gem. Whatever it may be, Prasena went on a hunting expedition wearing the Syamantaka gem around his neck; perhaps he went with the intention of preserving the gem Syamantaka at a different place under the ruse of a hunting expedition. He was killed by a lion on the prowl inside the forests. But his death seemed dubious to Kṛṣṇa’s kinsfolk, that is, the members of the Vṛṣṇi, Andhaka and Yadu clans and suspected Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa, antsy to prove himself innocent, went in search of the Syamantaka gem. He eventually duelled with Jāmbavān (Jambavan), the representative of non-Aryan races, and returned with the gem to Dvārakā (Dwaraka) where he presented it to its true owner, Satrājit.

  • It is at this point that the mighty Akrūra makes a dramatic entry in the Syamantaka gem affair. Many Purāṇas relate that Satrājit’s daughter, the exquisitely beautiful Satyabhāmā was adored by many and Akrūra was one of them. The other two, Kṛtavarma (Kritavarma) and Śatadhanvā (Shatadhanwa) were brothers.

  • After Satrājit received the gem Syamantaka that Kṛṣṇa had recovered, he gave the beautiful Satyabhāmā’s hand in marriage to Kṛṣṇa as a token of gratitude. This enraged Akrūra because not only had he wished to marry Satyabhāmā himself but also to possess the gem Syamantaka . All of his anger now came to be directed at Satrājit. Since Satyabhāmā was already married, Akrūra felt that she was now more or less beyond his reach. So he wished to at least attain the gem Syamantaka , and as part of his plan, he reached out to another one of Satyabhāmā’s former suitors, Śatadhanvā (Shatadhanwa). Akrūra told him, “Satrājit has neglected all of us and entrusted Satyabhāma to Kṛṣṇa. Thus he has no right to live anymore. And since none of us could get Satyabhāmā, what is the harm in killing Satrājit and taking the precious Syamantaka from him? Satadhanvā, why don’t you go ahead and execute this task”—ghātayitvainaṃ tanmahāratnaṃ tvayā kiṃ na gṛihyate?—“If Kṛṣṇa concocts a problem here Kṛitavarmā and I will come to your aid.”
  • The opportunity of slaying Satrājit arrived soon enough. A conspiracy hatched by Duryodhana around the same time had sent the Pāṇḍavas to Vāraṇāvata (Varanavat). Under Vidura’s advice, they were able to evade Purocana’s ploy at Vārṇāvata, and managed to escape from the palace of lac by setting it on fire themselves. But the word spread among people that Kuntī and the five Pāṇḍavas had perished in that fire. So Kṛṣṇa rushed to Vāraṇāvata to fulfill his role as a relative of the Pāṇḍavas at their funeral. Kṛṣṇa’s absence from Dvāraka provided a golden opportunity to Śatadhanvā; he seized the moment to murder Sarājit in his sleep and steal the Syamantaka.

When Kṛṣṇa came to know of Satrājit’s brutal assassination and the theft of the Syamantaka from Satyabhāmā, he vowed to kill Śatadhanvā. When Śatadhanvā got a wind of Kṛṣṇa’s intentions, he was terrified and reached out to his elder brother Kṛtavarmā. Kṛtavarmā was intimidated by Kṛṣṇa and refused to help him. Śatadhanvā then approached Akrūra. Akrūra, too, went back on his word to render him aid by citing his apprehension of Kṛṣṇa’s tremendous power, and made no efforts to help Śatadhanvā. Thus rejected, Śatadhanvā realised his death was inevitable and innocently told Akrūra, “If there is absolutely no way in which my life may be saved, at least keep the Syamantaka.” Akrūra replied, “I can keep the gem with myself but swear that you shall not reveal its whereabouts even if you die.” Śatadhanvā gave his word and thus Akrūra finally came in possession of the gem.

Kṛṣṇa killed the absconding Ṣatadhanvā as he had vowed but did not find the Syamantaka on him. This incurred the wrath of even his elder brother Balarāma; all the more, he came to be defamed as a ‘thief’ during this time. But there was nothing that he could do.

On the other hand, Akrūra found little peace in possessing the Syamantaka. He was terribly distressed about the eight loads of gold that the gem produced everyday. Neither could he fashion jewels out of this gold to adorn himself with, nor could he convert them into currency and spend it. Finally, after contemplating all his options, Akrūra started organising many different extensive and extravagant yajñas (yajnas). These yajñas continued to be held for many years. This earned Akrūra quite a name as an organizer of yajñas and his yajñas became renowned as Akrūra-yajña.

Conducting these extravagant ceremonies one after another required an exorbitant amount of wealth; from this Kṛṣṇa could deduce by conjecture that the Syamantaka was with Akrūra. He could also understand that it was necessary for Akrūra to keep performing these yajña — scriptures forbade killing a person initiated into a yajña, and considered such crime a terrible sin. Akrūra was well aware that Kṛṣṇa would not be able to harm him in this scenario. Furthermore, due to the presence of the Syamantaka at Dvārakā, the land remained free from floods, droughts, diseases and epidemics. All was well. Amidst all this, a certain incident occurred—some royalties of the Bhoja clan who were allies of Akrūra, killed Śatrughna (Shatrughna), a descendant of the Sātvata (Satwata) clan. This scared Akrūra and caused him to flee from Dvārakā. The day Akūra left Dvārakā, the land fell prey to droughts, floods and epidemics. This led to numerous debates and when the subject came up in the royal court, an elderly courtier alluded to Akrūra’s father Śvaphalka, saying, “Wherever he resided, the place never suffered from any natural calamities. His son Akrūra has this quality as well. Hence, it is necessary that he is brought back to Dvārakā.”

Kṛṣṇa, along with other Yādava chiefs, then brought Akrūra back to Dvārakā, reassuring him of his safety. As soon as Akrūra returned to Dvārakā, all natural calamities there came to an end. Kṛṣṇa, however, did not believe that Akrūra had inherited the same quality that his father Svaphalka had acquired through religious austerities. Rather, he was nearly convinced that an acquiescent nature persisted solely under the Syamantaka’s influence, and that the gem was definitely in possession of Akrūra. Almost certain about this fact, he called a meeting of the chiefs of Yādava, Vṛṣṇi, Andhaka and other clans. He addressed Akrūra before everyone with assertive confidence, “Satadhanvā has passed on the Syamantaka to you prior to his death. This kingdom has been greatly ameliorated on account of the gem being in your possession, and we, too, are reaping its benefits. Let the gem remain with you— we have no objections to that. But show it to everybody at least once, because even my brother Balarāma suspects me on this matter.”

Kṛṣṇa obviously wanted to clear himself of the ignominy. Initially, however, Akrūra found this quite irksome, though he realised that he had no other option. He admitted that Śatadhanvā had given him the gem. But in his dilly-dallying, he had not been able to hand it over. Akrūra said, “It is not that I did not suffer because the gem was with me. Please accept it now. Otherwise, if you so want, you can give it to anyone else as you wish.” He then produced the Syamantaka from the folds of the clothing that covered the lower half of his body, and placed it before everyone. Kṛṣṇa, deliberated on the virtues and vices of everyone present, and eventually entrusted the gem to Akrūra once again, who wore it around his neck. At once, his appearance became akin to the sun under the gem’s influence.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the extent to which the events concerning the Syamantaka, Satyabhāmā, and Akrūra, are associated with the chronicles of Kurus and Pāṇḍavas in Mahābhārata. However, we find Akrūra present at Yudhiṣṭhira’s new capital at Indraprastha constructed by the demon Maya. Similarly, his attendance is noted in Virāta Parva during Abhimanyu’s marriage in the township of Upaplabya, a part of the city of Virāta.

  • When internecine strife between the Yadus and the Vṛṣṇis resulting from the discourteous behaviour of Kṛṣṇa’s brothers and sons started claiming lives on both sides in Mauṣalaparva of Mahābhārata, Arjuna heard of the matter and arrived there. Kṛṣṇa, while speaking of this terrible havoc tells Arjuna, “I do not hold Sātyaki, Kṛtavarmā or Akrūra responsible for this destruction; rather, the curse of the sage is the cause behind it.” Although many of the Yadus and Vṛṣṇis perished in these internal feuds, Akrūra survived almost till the end. Kṛṣṇa was apprised of all disasters by his charioteer Dāruka (Daruka) and by his friend Akrūra. Kṛṣṇa instructed Dāruka to notify Arjuna, and asked Akrūra to go to Dvārakā to protect his wives, so that they were not abducted by outlaws. On Kṛṣṇa’s orders, Akrūra set out by himself and had advanced only a little when he was killed by a Mauṣala blade hurled at him by an unidentified hunter. Later on, Arjuna escorted many of Kṛṣṇa’s wives along with Akrūra’s wives to Indraprastha. At Indraprastha Kṛṣṇa’s grandson crowned Aniruddha’s son Vajra as the king. Vajra pleaded with Akrūra’s wives many times over to stay at Indraprastha and even attempted to stop them from leaving, but all of them left to perform tapasyā.
  • In Svargārohaṇaparva of Mahābhārata, Akrūra, along with other heads of the Vṛṣṇi-Andhaka clans, merged with his previous true form, the Vaiśvedevas.